If it hadn't been for Lois Turnbull's concern for her horses, it's quite possible that one of the world's most outstanding new pear varieties wouldn't now be available to the public.
The pear -- Turnbull Giant, as it is appropriately termed -- has it over existing varieties in so many ways that it has been awarded US patent No. 4616. The pear has exceptional vigor, early maturity, disease resistance, and a 2-in-1 crop.
Midway through the season pears can be harvested when they are just as sweet, juicy, and crisp as any apple; at season's end they are very sweet and soft in the conventional pear manner. In addition, the tree has a rather unique way of getting around the problem of late-season frosts.
It almost sounds too good to be true, but I am assured it is not.
Moreover, I can testify from firsthand experience that the distinct apple and pear stages of the fruit do exist and that the delicious flavor is in no way exaggerated. I enjoyed eating the fruit so much that I plan on growing my own in the future.
A fruit tree with so many advantages over its competition suggests that it is the product of decades of patient research by geneticists. Well, it was nothing of the sort. It was, in fact, a sport thrown up by nature right alongside the paddock where Mrs. Turnbull threw kitchen scraps over the fence as a treat for the family's horses. It is presumed that she had been working with pears on one occasion and that a single seed, with all the right genetic programming, was trodden into the soil by a hoof.
There is precedent in fruit-growing history for this sort of thing. The Granny Smith apple, the premier apple of Southern Hemisphere countries and now being offered in the US as well, originated as a sport growing alongside a compost heap in an Australian backyard many years ago.
Ken and Lois Turnbull farm 160 acres near Depew, Okla., and grow all types of fruit and nut trees. They quickly recognized the considerable vigor of the young seedling but were not sure whether it was an apple or a pear.
When it began fruiting it still fooled them for a while. The fruit looked more like an apple than a pear, but it tasted all pear once it was fully ripe. They were also impressed by the size of the fruit. Individual specimens would weigh as much as 3 pounds while one-pounders were common.
Once it began producing, the Turnbulls paid scant attention to their Bartlett pear. They didn't need to. The seedling, now a large tree, was supplying all their pear needs and more. Friends and neighbors were so impressed with the fruit that eventually the Turnbulls wrote to Dan Hybskman, manager of Henry Field's nursery in Shenandoah, Iowa.
"We've got a pear like no other growing here," they said in effect. Mr. Hybskman was intrigued and went to look. It was indeed a pear (leaf and bark specimens told him that), but the fruit was almost as round as an apple although much larger. The creamy-white flesh of the tree was often almost seedless as well, a factor which might account for the fruit size (all the energy is going into the fruit and very little into making seeds).
Cuttings were taken and young trees started in the Henry Field test orchards.
Long after the growers at Field's were convinced of the pear's superiority based on size, taste, and vigor, a nurseryman cut into a still-green fruit to evaluate the flesh. When he chewed on it he was surprised to find the flesh juicy and with the taste and texture of an apple.
Repeated tests showed that all the large, but still-hard pears tasted just as good. The 2-in-1 characteristics of the pear had been discovered.
The tree also is disease-resistant and tolerant of heat, drought, and cold. Test trees have grown well as far north as the middle of Minnesota. There is yet another advantage that Mr. Turnbull quickly noticed. When a late frost kills off the first blossoms, "the tree just seems to bloom again until it sets fruit," he says.
According to Mrs. Turnbull, the ripe pears can be canned, eaten fresh, made into sauces, and the like, while the green pears can be used "just like apples" in pies, cobblers, Waldorf salad, and other apple recipes.